Have you tried Yin Yoga yet?
My motivation for writing this article is to get everyone who hasn’t tried Yin Yoga, or isn’t convinced of its benefits yet, to try it!
Why? Because the feeling that you are left with after you have gone through a Yin Yoga session is amazing! You do yourself, your body and your mind a great favour.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature. Yin is the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of things; yang is the changing, moving, revealing aspect. Other yin-yang polarities include cold-hot, down-up, calm-excited.
In the body, the relatively stiff connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia) are yin, while the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood are yang.
A Yin Yoga class usually consists of a series of long-held, passive floor poses that mainly work the lower part of the body—the hips, pelvis, inner thighs, lower spine. These areas are especially rich in connective tissues. The poses are held for up to five minutes, sometimes longer.
Read more about the history and origins of Yin Yoga here.
So who is it for?
Yin Yoga is for you if you are tired, over-stimulated, when your energy is too erratic, your mind overactive, whether you are craving for energy or you feel you have too much of it.
We live in a world where we are bombarded with stimuli, stimuli that is available 24/7. Think about your laptops, phones and other mobile devices. It’s so easy to end up not switching off at all anymore. To end up with a mind that is constantly busy processing all that information that you throw at it. Whether the information is good, valuable or rubbish, it doesn’t matter, the mind still needs to deal with it.
The mind gets used to that amount of information and starts to crave stimuli if it gets quiet. So you end up browsing, looking for stuff, it doesn’t matter what as long as you fill the gaps. Gaps we really should allow to stay empty to find some sort of down time – for the mind to stop and for you just to be.
Any kind of dynamic form of yoga caters for this aspect of keeping yourself busy. Although the mind may calm down as a result of the active exercise, you are still feeding the part of you that wants intensity and wants to be stimulated. You just happen to have found yourself a healthier stimulus!
I am not saying cut out the dynamic yoga, I love Vinyasa and Hatha yoga a lot myself and benefit from it greatly. I just think it’s a good idea also to balance all the on-the-go aspects of life, and a great way to do that is through Yin Yoga.
EkhartYoga members, new to Yin Yoga? Esther Ekhart has a Yin class that is suitable for yogis new to the practice of Yin Yoga.
Yin Yoga and the body
Yin Yoga works on the Yin tissues – also known as the connective tissues. Connective tissue responds best to a slow, steady load. Yin Yoga poses are held for around 5 minutes in a class. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time in this way, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger, which is exactly what you want. Remember, the principle of exercise is to stress the tissue so the body will respond by strengthening it.
Different Yin Yoga poses stimulate and remove blocks in the myofascial meridians in the body. This has the effect of balancing the body’s internal organs and systems.
Yin Yoga requires the muscles to relax around the connective tissue in order to get a stretch, so not all yoga poses can be done safely or effectively when practising Yin style. Thus Yin asanas have different names when practised in a Yin style.
For example, Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose) in a Hatha or Ashtanga Yoga class involves lengthening the spine, stretching the muscles of the back and engaging the muscles of the legs and abdomen to fold the torso towards the legs. Whereas in a similar Yin style version – Half Butterfly (pictured), the muscles are relaxed, the spine naturally rounds so that the head comes towards the knees rather than the feet as the body releases.
Yin Yoga and the mind
Becoming still in a pose and staying for a while, creates those gaps that I was talking about earlier. Keeping the gaps empty creates the space, for anything that wants to, to come up. For example, feelings of anxiety, feelings of happiness or sadness, boredom. Anything you suppress with all the on-the-go business in your life. Finally, you take time out to allow for any of those feelings to be there. Emotions, thoughts, feelings we have kept in the shadow.
Generally speaking, during a Yin Yoga class, the teacher will encourage you to allow all those feelings to be there, but not identify with them. The teacher will guide you to become the observer of everything that arises in that space. All those stored away emotions, feelings and sensations now have a chance to come out. You have no idea how much energy it costs the body to keep all that suppressed. So the release you get from letting it all come out can also be just as big.
You learn to observe only the pure physical sensations of emotions, without getting caught up in the stories about those emotions.
These stories usually have to do with why we feel such and such, whose fault it is etc. Just observing these physical sensations, without giving juice to the stories allows those emotions and physical sensations a way out of your system. You open the door in a way of speaking.
This way you clear the mind of these often unconscious emotions, and you give your system an opportunity to work through the blockages they have caused in the body. What a wonderful and much-needed process!
Here are some principles to keep in mind when practising Yin Yoga:
- Find your appropriate edge: move slowly and gently into the pose. Don’t go straight to your “maximum” in the pose and never stretch so far as to cause pain.
- Stillness: consciously try to release into the pose, and to remain still, without fidgeting or shifting position too much.
- Hold the position: start with holding a pose for 1-3 minutes and progress to 5 minutes or more.
Key benefits of a regular Yin Yoga practice
- Stillness: calms and balances the mind and body
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Increased circulation
- Improved flexibility
- Fascial release
- Greater joint mobility
- Balance to the internal organs and improved flow of chi or prana through meridian stimulation
So now, roll out your mat and try some! Just Yin Yoga is a programme for subscribers to Ekhartyoga.com, with pure Yin classes. If you have any special experience with Yin yoga that you want to share, please comment below.